A few weeks after the birth of my third baby, I realized that despite being surrounded by friends and family, I was on my own in a new way. For the first time since my mom passed away half a year ago, I understood that I was in charge of taking care of myself from here on out. I started feeling weird in the afternoon, just a few stomach pains and the occasional ache, but by nighttime, I had a full blown flu: chills, fever, and sweats.
The pain in my breast started a few hours later, but I knew before it began that it was mastitis. I pushed aside the bruised, tired feeling in my body, hoping that I was just exhausted. I ran my own bath while my husband put the older two kids to bed and prayed that our 3-week-old would stay sound asleep long enough for me to soak in the boiling hot water.
By the time all three kids were asleep, I was in bed, under the covers, shivering and chattering. Somewhere between shaking with chills and sweating out the fever, I started to cry. Not just because I felt awful, but because I wanted my mom. I wanted her to do all of the things for me that I was doing for myself: run me a bath, make me tea and toast, and then make me drink the tea even when I didn’t want to.
To be fair, Oded does a pretty great impression of my mom—he knows how I take my tea, he knows that I need multiple baths and hand holding to get through a flu, and more than anything, he is patient. But when one of us falls ill, our first priority is our babies—dinners, daycare drop-offs, and diaper changes. With three kids under 5 in the house, there isn’t much time or extra hands to care for each other when we fall sick, and this is why I cried. I miss being someone else’s main priority.
This was the first time I brought a baby home without either of my parents there to welcome him or her. It was the first time that my mom wasn’t there to remind me of what her labors were like, to tell me how smushed I was when I came out, or to make sure that I had an ever present glass of water next to me as I nursed.
After my first two babies, she was there with me as I navigated sleepless nights when Aviv wouldn’t stop crying (no more pasta sauce for me after that night), or what to do when Maya’s daycare kept her out in the sun on a 93 degree day when she was just 12 weeks (I got a nanny). Yuval came home to a lot of love—to uncles and cousins and a savta (grandmother) who cradles him and coos to him in Hebrew, but my family was absent for reasons that were more than fair.
As a third-time mom, I have a long list of what to be grateful for, first and foremost, a healthy baby. As I lay in bed sick and sweating, I realized it is also fair to be sad about the people and experiences that are not in my future. It is hard to know that I won’t share the first weeks of this baby’s life with my dad or anyone from my family, that my best friends won’t know him until he is much older, and that my mom will never know him.
There are a lot of things about living in Israel, far from my family and friends, which impact the way I parent. Instead of spending actual time with my family, we talk via video. I consciously remind my kids about their zayde (grandfather), uncle, and aunt in Boston. My kids ask about grandma all the time, and sharing our memories of her is a normal breakfast conversation for us.
That said, I am learning that family looks different as I age. My family is also my husband and the babies we made together. My family is also my dad, my brother and his wife, but it is comprised of people that I am not related to by blood: my longtime friends, my mother-in-law who sits with me as I nurse, and the new friends that I have made since arriving in Israel. No one will ever replace my mom, but I am grateful for those who persist in supporting me in her absence.
My flu symptoms only lasted a few hours and by the next morning, I was back at it—making breakfast, braiding Maya’s hair so she looks like Elsa, and walking Aviv to daycare just the two of us. As much as I wish my mom was here to take care of me (and just to be with me), I hear and feel her in each day that l am lucky enough to care for my little people just as she cared for me.